While Thai whisky and mushroom milkshakes feature in the hedonistic dreams of many a backpacker visiting Thailand, there's more to Koh Phangan, in the country's southeast, than the chaos of the monthly Full Moon Party.
Whether you want to relax after the Full Moon festivities or skip the madness altogether, Koh Phangan's northwest coast is the place to be.
There are several beaches to choose from, depending on the level of privacy you seek. If you want to feel like a castaway, head to Bottle Beach, accessible by boat when the weather's fine, or via a newly carved but rugged jungle track.
The fishing village of Chaloklum offers fantastic seafood, and boats leave from here for day trips to the popular scuba-dive site Sail Rock.
If you're after something that's a bit of a mix, Haad Salad is the ideal choice. To reach the small bay, grab a taxi from anywhere on Koh Phangan and you'll be dropped at a strip of tour agencies, grocery shops and beachwear stores. Go past these down the sandy paths that wind through resorts and eventually to the beach.
Resorts line the sand, but they're unimposing and unpretentious. Many consist of dark timber bungalows hidden among thick tropical gardens or tucked into the hillside. Others are stand-alone and rustic, their ramshackle appeal matching that of the bars and restaurants.
My visit to Koh Phangan in June coincides with the beginning of Thailand's low season, when monsoon rains are frequent. Happily, however, the sun makes an appearance and allows for swimming, sunbathing and kayaking.
Poolside at my accommodation, Salad Hut, I watch dogs basking on the sand and pestering the tiny crabs caught in the rockpools at low tide. I count 14 colourful long-tail boats beached at the water's edge and watch a local woman collect something from the water and place that something in a plastic bucket. She's probably picking up the black-spiked sea urchins that live in the warm tropical waters around Thailand, or perhaps the black and grey sea cucumbers that are regarded as a delicacy throughout Southeast Asia.
Crab and lobster pots tethered to fraying ropes sit in bundles near the shoreline, while holidaying farang (the Thai word for Westerner) stroll up and down the crescent beach.
When darkness falls it's wise to carry a torch around Haad Salad, as the only lights illuminating the way for couples strolling hand in hand to restaurants are the lanterns hanging from the trees in front of resorts and the lamps shining upward into the palms.
The local ladies offering massages are present day and night, their open-air studios beckoning weary travellers. They're not as accomplished in their art as other masseuses in places such as Phuket Town and on Koh Phi Phi, but they still manage to knead away those stubborn knots in my shoulders.
This is Koh Phangan at its idyllic best. Although the few shops here do sell fluoro singlets and buckets of SangSom whisky, there's no drunken revelry. There's no trance music, overly amorous behaviour on the beach or dangerous wooden slides to hurl yourself down as there is at Haad Rin, home of the Full Moon Party.
Haad Salad is where you come to escape all that. It's the traveller's tonic.
DO A LITTLE OR A LOT
Activities on offer at Haad Salad include snorkelling, kayaking, scuba diving at Sail Rock, kiteboarding elsewhere on Koh Phangan and, of course, Thai massage.
GETTING THERE: Fly from Bangkok airport (Suvarnabhumi) to Koh Samui, then travel by boat to Thong Sala pier on Koh Phangan. Or fly from Bangkok to Surat Thani on the mainland and take a bus to Don Sak pier, then a ferry to Thong Sala pier. There are also bus and train connections from Bangkok to Surat Thani.
Several airlines fly from Bangkok to Koh Samui and Surat Thani. Try Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways and Air Asia, or Nok Air, which operates out of Bangkok's other airport, Don Muang.